Crist, Scott keep recycling campaign attacks

The Republican Party of Florida (top) and the Florida Democratic Party are behind two ads that are part of the trend of recycling campaign attacks in the gubernatorial race. (via YouTube)
The Republican Party of Florida (top) and the Florida Democratic Party are behind two ads that are part of the trend of recycling campaign attacks in the gubernatorial race. (via YouTube)

With a week to go until Election Day, you probably feel like you’ve heard every attack in the Florida gubernatorial campaign before.

That’s because you have.

With millions being poured into TV commercials, Gov. Rick Scott and challenger Charlie Crist (and the Republican and Democratic parties backing them) keep recycling the same talking points over and over. Many of them have been used so many times, PolitiFact Florida has already checked them more than once.

Two recent campaign ads illustrate this concept well. The ads are new, but the attack lines are recycled. We’ll sort out the spin to let you know what’s accurate and what’s not.

Scott attacks Crist as "helpless"

In an Oct. 23, 2014, ad on behalf of Rick Scott, the Republican Party of Florida lays out its case against Crist.

"Florida lost a million jobs when Charlie Crist was governor, but Charlie says it wasn’t his fault, says he was helpless. Really? Then why did Florida suffer more job loss and foreclosure than 48 other states?" the ad says. " Because Charlie made bad decisions that hurt people, raising taxes, cutting education and piling up debt. We don’t need a governor like Charlie, who runs away and admits he’s helpless in tough times. Charlie Crist: Slick politician, lousy governor."

We already know job losses and foreclosures in Florida were particularly bad (our foreclosure rate hit No. 1 in 2012, when Scott was in office).

Crist and job losses: The Scott administration for a long time was using the number 825,000 job losses for Crist’s term, but ramped that up to 832,000 for this campaign. That’s because they switched the reading of the Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers to track December 2006 to December. Either way, that’s a relatively minor difference that does round up to 1 million, although it isn’t 1 million proper.

Economic experts we’ve interviewed have told us repeatedly that you can’t lay sole blame on a governor for job losses -- nor give them sole credit for job gains -- especially in the midst of a recession like the one the state experienced. We rated a similar statement Half True.

Crist and raising taxes: After the recession hit in full force, Crist did sign a budget in 2009 that included $2.2 billion in new taxes and fees, breaking a campaign promise that Floridians would not have to pay new taxes. But the ideas came from the Republican-led Legislature, who made it very difficult for their Republican governor to veto the hikes. That context isn’t defined, so we called this claim Mostly True.

Crist and cuts to education: This attack is vague, but Scott and the state GOP have charged Crist did cut spending during his terms in a couple of different ways.

In the past, Scott has said that under Crist, 3,000 teachers lost their jobs. That’s a dubious number based on estimates, and while there is no question some teachers lost their jobs following the recession, it doesn’t seem to be all that close to 3,000. We rated the claim Mostly False.

Part of the reason that many teachers didn’t lose their jobs is because Crist accepted close to $2 billion in federal stimulus money, which helped Crist boast K-12 per pupil spending was about $200 less under Scott than under Crist. While rating that, we found that Scott’s per student spending was about $200 less than the 2007-08 fiscal year, Crist’s first budget, but that level dropped the following three years, even when shored up with that federal money. Because of that change, we knocked Crist’s version of education spending history down a notch to Mostly True.

Crist’s record on debt: In the past, Scott said Crist ran up the state’s debt by some $5.2 billion, although that was counting years under which the former governor had no control. Reworking the math, some experts have told us that $3.4 billion would be more accurate. Because of that difference, we rated the original $5.2 billion claim Half True.

Crist’s attacks Scott on Medicare fraud

The Florida Democratic Party took some familiar swipes at Scott in another ad on Oct. 27, using his record not only as governor, but as a businessman, as well.

"It was the largest Medicare fraud in U.S. history, and Rick Scott was CEO. Taxpayers and seniors got cheated, but he walked away with millions," the ad said. "And today, under Rick Scott, we’re still paying the price. He raised your property taxes, let utility companies raise your rates. Medicare fraud, higher utility bills and property taxes; Rick Scott is just too shady for the Sunshine state."

Medicare fraud: At this point, you probably already know Scott was CEO of the Columbia/HCA hospital chain when in 1997 the FBI raided the company for proof they were overbilling the federal government, among other charges. The company settled in 2000 with fines totaling $1.7 billion, but Scott resigned at the behest of his board of directors.

The Columbia/HCA settlement has since been surpassed in dollar value, though the bigger cases involved Medicare somewhat less directly. When Democrats said this one before, they could have been more specific about that, so we rated the claim Mostly True.

Scott and raising property taxes: Crist has used this attack several times in the campaign. It refers to the millage rate (the amount used to calculate property taxes on assessed value) for local school taxes. The Legislature, governor and the state Department of Education work to decide what that millage rate will be each year.

While Scott has targeted this specific millage rate previously, for 2014 Scott and the Legislature didn’t decrease the amount, although the education department did lower it a bit. While the rate is down from when Scott took office, an increase in taxable values across the state means the amount brought in by this tax has gone up $370 million year over year.

But that just has the effect of a tax increase, not an actual increase. If the rate stayed the same but assessments dropped and less revenue came in, we wouldn’t call that a tax cut. We rated Crist’s claim Mostly False.

Scott’s record on utility rates: Again we have to look at this one from the other side, because Scott said these rates have really been lower during his term than they were during Crist’s.

When we looked at this one, we found that fuel surcharges for electricity were up under Crist, but governors don’t have any control over those. That means bills were higher under Crist, but base rates the power companies charged were actually lower. Base rates have been going up steadily under Scott, even as those same fuel surcharges decreased. When Scott said the state’s utility rates went up 30 percent under Crist, we rated the statement  False.